Tag Archives: augmented revolution

Technology and the Power of the Injured Body

The image of injured war veteran Scott Olsen used as a call to further Occupy action.

The idea that bodies are the loci and the focus for the movement of power is a well-established one in sociological thought. In this sense, bodies are inherently political things – they are not just sites for the production and reproduction of social power but they also have political significance. What they do matters; what happens to them and why matters. In social theory this is often centered around Foucauldian concepts of discipline and the production of knowledge, but for the purposes of this post I want to go back to a previous post, where I made an argument specifically about the political significance of bodies in contexts of violent protest:

[B]odies have symbolic weight and power, and often they have the most symbolic weight and power of any other part of the movement. A dramatic flush of international outrage was generated around the film of Neda Agha-Soltan bleeding to death in a Tehran street, but it was the physical suffering and death of her physical body that generated that rage. Outrage grew exponentially out of the footage and images of Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying seated UC Davis students, but again, that outrage was generated by and situated around the physical suffering of physical bodies.

It’s important to emphasize the aspect of physical suffering in itself; the body carries political, discursive significance not only when it is intact but when – sometimes especially when – it is in the process of being damaged and destroyed. And the context of this damage and destruction – the circumstances under which it occurs – is part of what imbues the  body with its significance and alters what nature it already has.

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Emotional Technology – Part II: Wired rage, participatory witness

Image from Zeynep Tufecki/Technosociology.org

In the previous installment of this series, I set up what I characterize as the two primary areas of argument that stand against my primary claim: that social media technology and other forms of ICT, far from constraining emotional connections and the emotional power of solidarity-creating rituals, actually serve to facilitate emotions and the powerful connective work that emotional interaction does.

There are a number of ways that one could argue this is done, and Jenny Davis makes an especially pertinent argument in her post about the social cost of abstaining from digitally augmented forms of interaction. For the purposes of this piece, I want to focus my attention on the capacity of ICTs to facilitate the generation of emotional energy around contentious political action – especially contentious political action in a context of violent repression.

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Limbaugh’s Social Media Problem

Rush Limbaugh is experiencing an advertiser exodus, and social media is playing a big part.

It’s the kind of story that writes itself. A popular media entity, on one of the oldest forms of electronic mass media, bears the brunt of activists’ Facebook wrath. It combines two old rivalries: liberals and conservatives and new media versus old media. In case you missed it, here’s the brief synopsis of events from ABC news:

Rush Limbaugh remains in big trouble. Advertisers – 11 at last count – are pulling spots off his radio talk show because of the reaction to his calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Opponents are mobilizing on social media for a long campaign to try to convince even more sponsors to drop his program. Ms. Fluke herself has rejected as insufficient Mr. Limbaugh’s attempts at apology

Fluke had testified before congress about the importance of “the pill” for medical uses beyond birth control. Rush concluded that she was having so much sex that she needed the American tax payer to help defer the cost of her contraceptives. (This has led to some speculation that conservatives don’t know how hormonal birth control works.) Thousands of people are organizing to get advertisers to pull their money out of Rush Limbaugh’s show, and many of them are organizing via Twitter and Facebook. Will we be subjected to another round of technologically deterministic news stories about “cyber revolution,” or are we going to have a more nuanced conversation? More precisely, does Rush have a social media problem or has he -all things being equal- just gone too far this time? (more…)

Emotional Technology – Part I: Speaking in distant tongues

Egyptian solidarity protest in Paris, Jan. 2011. Image by Jacques Delarue.

When it comes to thought and research on social movements and technology (separately and together), emotion is that crucial piece of the picture that everyone technically sees but hardly anyone explicitly acknowledges as worth paying attention to in its own right. Some of this is likely because emotion is hard to study in any way that social science would consider rigorous; it’s often taken as something fundamentally irrational and therefore fundamentally inexplicable. It is highly subjective. It is culturally and situationally constructed, and therefore conceptually slippery. It is interior; it is a difficult thing to see and to know. If explicitly drawing it out as an important factor is problematic for some, identifying it as a variable capable of carrying any causal weight is even more so.

Regarding technology and social movements combined, there is the question of how the digital and physical play out as far as what ends up really being important. What is the relationship between the two? Where exactly is the body in augmented contention and is the way in which it matters changing? What is really going on when we see a bunch of street protesters carrying smartphones?

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SOPA/PIPA

EDIT [2:49PM EST]- Saw this on my wall:

 

This is the full size of the picture:

EDIT [1:24PM EST]- Buzzfeed has compiled “25 Angry Kids Who Can’t Do Their Homework Because of the Wikipedia Blackout.” While this is pretty funny, it also underscores the need for educators to not just say “don’t use wikipedia” but to help students use networked resources in an appropriate and effective manner.

EDIT [11:25AM EST]- Google has put a black sensor bar over their logo on the search page. Facebook has not done anything officially, but my newsfeed is full of my friends talking about it. Maybe that’s the appropriate response? Public spaces are meant to be forums for discussion, the space itself is somewhat ambivalent.

Original Post- If you’re reading this on January 18th, 2012, then you are probably happy to find something that is not completely blacked out. While many of us, personally, are very much against SOPA and PIPA, all of us at Cyborgology thought it would be better to provide information about participating sites, rather than blackout the blog entirely.

Usually a strike is the beginning of a political battle, but it seems as though the fight to kill SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act) has already been won by the activists and businesses that feel threatened by some of its provisions. As of last night, Cory Doctorow reported on BoingBoing:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has killed SOPA, stopping all action on it. He didn’t say why he killed it, but the overwhelming, widespread unpopularity of the bill and the threat of a presidential veto probably had something to do with it

The companion senate bill, the “Protect IP Act” or PIPA is still alive and well though. If you are unfamiliar with SOPA or PIPA, here is a great video from americancensorship.org that describes why the two bills are so concerning:

It is easy to accuse SOPA and PIPA supporters as money-grubbing intellectual property hounds; greedy millionaires who care about their bottom lines over the freedoms on democratic citizens. But I think greed  is only a necessary -not a sufficient- condition for supporting bills like these. The truth is, Congress does not understand the Internet.

For me, the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) is synonymous with “Congress doesn’t understand the internet.” If you’re of college age or older, you probably remember the 2006 senate hearing in which Stevens emphatically declared that the internet was not “a dump truck” but was in fact, a “series of tubes.” Technologically mediated communities immediately jumped on the gaff and produced  shirts, songs, and even powerpoint presentations to share in a common joke. Once the novelty had subsided though, some started to worry about the fate of the internet. The blog for 463 Communications, a consulting firm in DC, was one of the first to raise the concern:

Regardless of what side one takes on net neutrality, it must be recognized that when the industry gets involved in a pitched, focused battle, not a lot of broad-based education unattached to a specific agenda is going to happen.  Quite the opposite.

Now, six years later, we are facing the same problem and it is a lot less funny. Even if you choose to ignore the humanitarian and civil libertarian arguments for why SOPA/PIPA is a bad bill, it is still incredibly destructive to business. It threatens to undermine the very basis of the so-called “information economy.” By making web site owners liable for something as mundane as a link to a soundcloud page, Congress would effectively halt some of the most innovative work being done in the fields of social media and web design. Even though the MPAA and RIAA are supporters of SOPA/PIPA, they also stand to lose from it as well. The culture industry relies on the ability to remix and appropriate existing material and turn it into something new and unique. But even something as mainstream and pop as Justin Beiber was originally discovered covering Justin Timberlake songs on Youtube.

At the end of the day, I don’t want my congress to pass a bill that would give Girl Talk more years in jail than a serial killer. More importantly, I certainly do not want to see a bill pass that could give governments the ability to shut down entire web sites. If SOPA/PIPA passes, there will be no more augmented revolutions on these shores.

This Blog is Not a Fungus

Kurt Anderson, writer, critic, and public intellectual

I share David Sasaki’s sentiments when he says,

Along with David BrooksJeffrey Goldberg, and Jad AbumradKurt Anderson belongs to my select fraternity of idealized, intellectual American man-crush.

But while Sasaki is disappointed with Anderson’s “Person of the Year” article, I am concerned about his recent article in Vanity Fair titled “You Say You Want a Devolution.” Anderson contends that the past 20 years have seen a total stagnation in the production of new cultural aesthetics. In other words, the end of the 50s looked nothing like the end of the 70s, but 1989 looks remarkably similar to 2009. Anderson concludes:

We seem to have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle-economic progress and innovation stagnated, except in information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation.

This is concerning, since that means the entirety of our blog is nothing more than the fungal growth sitting upon the neutral technological substrate that we impregnate with decaying cultures of past decades. Tattoos, Facebook, Burning Man, the iPhone, Twitter, sex dolls, wifi, internet memes, reality TV, geek culture, hipsters, video gamesfaux-vintage photographs, and dubstep are all popular topics on our blog, and (along with blogging itself) are products of the last 20 years. Anderson assumes that cultural objects are made possible through technology, but refuses to admit that technologies can also be cultural objects in and of themselves. (more…)

Everything New is Old Again: Historical Augmented Revolution

Occupy Berlin!

With all the rhetoric around “Facebook Revolutions” and “Twitter Revolutions”1 that we’ve had to endure over the last couple of years, it’s easy to get the sense that there’s something new about the character of contemporary political protest and revolutionary action, and that this newness is, in some fundamental way, the practical result of the omnipresent nature of technology. It’s difficult to miss the profound interweaving and enmeshing of the physical and digital aspects of protest as we see it in both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street – the weight of the protests produced by the occupation of physical space by gathered human bodies, coupled with the constant documentation and nearly instantaneous sharing of images, video, and text that have chronicled these physical occupations and arguably helped them to grow – in short, the augmented nature of contemporary social action. We see this and to us it feels new. Even if we recognize that there are old things at work here – symbolism, patterns of mobilization and diffusion, pieces of the past reclaimed for the purpose of the present – we at least feel instinctively that there is something novel about the Arab Spring, Occupy, and all the other movements and events that have birthed themselves in correlation.

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The #OWS Raid at the Intersection of the Physical & Symbolic

In the 36 hours since the Occupy Wall Street raid removed protest infrastructure from Zuccotti Park, much of the conflict strikes me as the tension between the informational (the symbolic; media; ideas) and the material (physical; geographic). It runs through how New York City carried its actions out (at night, blocking journalists), the ensuing legal fight (does occupying physical space count as speech?) as well as the new strategic challenges facing an Occupy movement where camping is decreasingly an option.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that much of my work lies at the intersection of (1) information, media, technology, the online and (2) materiality, bodies and offline physical space. At this intersection, our reality is an “augmented” one. Part of the success of Occupy (and other recent protest movements) has been the awareness of just this point: by uniting media and information with the importance of flesh-and-blood bodies existing in physical space, our global atmosphere of dissent is increasingly one of an augmented revolution. Indeed, these are not protests centered online, as Jeff Jarvis tweeted this morning, or Zuccotti park, but in the augmented reality where the two intersect.

And this intersection of the power of the image and the power of the material dramatically came to a head about 36 hours ago as I write. In the early morning of November 15th, the two-month long occupation of Zuccotti Park was eliminated by the City of New York. (more…)

Social Media and Our Atmosphere of Augmented Dissent

laptops at the #occupy protests

Mass collective action is in the air, on the ground, on the web; indeed, there exists today an atmosphere conducive for revolutions, flash mobs, protests, uprisings, riots, and any other way humans coalesce physically and digitally to change the normal operation of society. [Photos of protests around the globe from just the past 30 days].

Some gatherings have clear goals (e.g., ousting Mubarak), however. there is also the sense that massive gatherings are increasingly inevitable today even when a reason for them is not explicit (e.g., the ongoing debate over the reasons for the UK Riots or the current #occupy protests). For some this is terrifying and for others it is exhilarating. And still others might think I am greatly overstating the amount of protest actually happening. True, we do not yet know if this second decade of the 21st Century will come to be known for massive uprisings. But if it is, I think it will have much to do with social media effectively allowing for the merging of atoms and bits, of the on and offline; linking the potential of occupying physical space with the ability of social media to provide the average person with information and an audience.

For example, the current #occupy protests across the United States (more…)

#Occupywallstreet: Social Media as a Strategic Frame

On September 17th, Wall Street was occupied. It was occupied by the bodies of about 500 protesters. The protests, aimed at the unjust hierarchical distribution of resources, were explicitly modeled after the Arab Spring, utilizing social media and a “leaderless” structure to organize a democratic revolution. Unlike the reality of the Arab Spring, however, protesters were asked to remain peaceful as they occupy downtown Manhattan for months to come. They aim to swell their numbers up to 20,000 or more.

What I find interesting about this, is the strategic emphasis on spontaneity, the romanticizing of the grass roots element, and framing, by organizers, of this event as something of a “social media” revolution. This is interesting because these protests are highly organized–not spontaneous. Organizers even went through a “practice run” before the day of the main event. Moreover, the protests do not stem from a small group of renegade revolutionaries, but are linked to established organizations–especially Adbusters, who launched the call for this protest months in advance. 

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